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It's Time To Stop With the On-Lead Dog Meet-Ups

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Letting your dog greet every dog you see can lead to a whole host of problems and I guarantee that your walks, your recall and most importantly, your relationship will improve dramatically if you cut it out. Stopping all the dog greetings is one of the first things that I set up with all new training clients and is one of my few hard rules. There’s next to no actual benefit to it but there are so many negatives.

Our first reason why dog meet-ups are bad? Let’s start with the on-lead greetings. Allowing dogs to meet on a lead almost always creates something called Barrier Frustration- which is exactly what it sounds like. Dogs begin to feel frustrated when faced with an unpredictable situation whilst restrained because they can’t react to their environment the way that they want.

If their want is to play with the dog they’re meeting, they’re going to be frustrated that they can’t run around and play the way they want to, but it gets worse if they don’t want to play and want the dog out of their space. Dogs respond to problems with a typical fight or flight and if they’re on a lead, you’ve removed their flight. The only option available to them to get a dog out of their space is fight- and that’s when you start to see reactivity. I cannot begin to tell you how many dogs I’ve met for training for exactly these issues, which is a shame when they’re so easily avoided.

When your dog is on a lead and restrained, they are relying on you to advocate for them and keep them safe. How would you react if someone had control over you and they let a stranger sprint over to you and you couldn’t move away?

Secondly, you know NOTHING about the strange dog. You don’t know if it has fleas, ear mites or parvovirus. You don’t know if it is reactive- even the most “friendly” dogs can lash out when approached (barrier frustration, see above). Every year, a vicious canine stomach bug circles round and I guarantee it wouldn’t get half as far if people were more vigilant about who their dog meets. You wouldn’t let your child play with total strangers, your dog should be no different.

Probably most importantly, you need to be the most exciting thing in the world to your dog for your recall to be effective. If your dog sees strange dogs as more exciting than you, how can you rely on them to come back? How can you stop them from running up to a reactive dog and getting hurt? Or running into the road to get to a dog? Or from dragging you over because they saw a dog and tried to bolt at it, forgetting they were on lead?

Contrary to popular opinion, dogs are not pack animals. Wolves are pack animals, but dogs have evolved a lot from wolves. Dogs do not need friends. Dogs need mental and physical stimulation, but not friends. In fact, I've worked with a lot of dogs over the years that have absolutely no desire to play with other dogs, even when they have the opportunity. They enjoy sniffing and playing fetch with their owners and they're happy with that.

Saying that, it is fine to train your dog to have some “friends” (for want of a better word) meaning dogs you see regularly that your dog can be neutral around and may play with. Totally fine. That’s all our group walks are. But you still need to train this so that you’re more exciting and play is controlled by you, both for their safety and so you keep your recall- which also is for their safety. Our dog is now two years old and, in that time, he’s never met a single random dog on a walk. We’ve had two years of lovely walks filled with play, rock solid recall, and engagement. He has two dog friends that we meet up with and he plays with them occasionally but for the most part, he loves being out with us. He can walk past dogs in the street perfectly calmly because they’ve never been a source of stress or over-excitement to him. Dog neutrality was always our goal and because of it we have an incredible time with him!

I know a lot of the problem is that we’re told “Socialise your dogs!” constantly in this way from the moment we get them but give no-greetings a try for a little bit and watch how your walks improve!

Happy Training


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